homeschool sports and extracurricularsHomeschooling has been legal in Tennessee for more than 20 years. Over time, we have seen new rules open doors for homeschoolers to enhance their educational experience through academics as well as athletics. Access to public and private school sports has been a significant benefit to homeschoolers. Major changes occurred in March 2015 when the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) revised its bylaws giving homeschoolers more definitive access to athletic opportunities. Considering that participation in sports is often a determining factor when it comes to homeschooling, understanding the Home School Rule is vital to potential (and current) homeschool families.

Revisions to Article II, Section 25 (Home School Rule) state homeschool students are eligible to try out for public and private school sports while remaining enrolled with an umbrella school (Category IV Church-related School). Those students are also required to register through their local education agency (LEA) or school board.

The definitions of a homeschool, a homeschool student, and TSSAA eligibility requirements are pretty straightforward. Often the question that causes confusion is which sports, extracurricular activities, and on-campus events are covered by the TSSAA rule.

The TSSAA was established in 1925 by school principals and superintendents to promote honesty and integrity in the athletes who play sports and the people who officiate the games. School leaders wanted to ensure “academic mission would not be compromised in the pursuit of athletic glory“. The non-profit organization is managed by volunteers and has become the authority for member schools throughout the state of Tennessee. All member schools (also see TSSAA Handbook bylaws pg. 2 – Athletic Districts) are required to strictly follow the guidelines set by the organization. That includes allowing homeschool students to try out for all TSSAA sanctioned sports.

What sports are sanctioned?
Under the TSSAA rule, all sanctioned or sponsored sports (TSSAA Handbook, pg. 9 – Sponsored Sports), including baseball, girls’ softball, basketball, bowling, cross country, football, golf, tennis, track and field, unified track and field, girls’ volleyball, soccer, and wrestling are open for eligible middle school and high school homeschool students to try out for play. Girls’ and boys’ lacrosse will be added as a sanctioned TSSAA sport in the 2021-22 school year. Any member school that does not permit a homeschool student to try out for a team is subject to losing its TSSAA membership status. Permission to try out does not guarantee a student will be placed on the roster or allowed to play on the team. The latter is not typical, but in some cases, homeschool athletes have been selected (just as their public and private school peers) for a team and do not see any play during the season. Coaches have the option to play their better skilled athletes during all games.

What about extracurricular activities and on-campus events?
Confusion continues regarding extracurricular activities and on-campus events like cheerleading, band, color guard, debate team, science club and school dances. Fact: the TSSAA rule does not apply to any of those activities or events. This common misunderstanding may happen because although specific sports are included under the rule, member schools still have the option to decide in what extracurricular and on-campus events homeschool students may participate. One school in a county may allow homeschool students to cheer and march in the band, while another in the same county or the next county over, will not permit that to happen. Each school has the right to decide participation regarding extracurricular and on-campus events, but not regarding sanctioned sports.

What should homeschoolers do?
When it comes to sports, knowing the Home School Rule is a great place to start. For extracurricular activities and on-campus events, contact the public school for which you are zoned to learn what activities and events are open to homeschool students.

Also check the private schools in your area, but be aware of the requirements for your child to play on private school TSSAA member teams (TSSAA Handbook, pg. 24).

“A home school student participating at a private school must pay full tuition and abide by all financial aid rules. For the purpose of this rule, “full tuition” is defined as the same amount paid by all other students enrolled and in regular attendance at the school.” ~ TSSAA Handbook

The same restrictions that apply to their public school and private school peers apply to homeschool students. When playing for a TSSAA member team, homeschoolers are subject to eligibility and academic requirements, transfer rules (ex: redshirting), practice and games. Registration with your zoned LEA by August 1 and notification to the principal and coach of the sport by August 15 are important deadlines not to miss. Also, testing is required in the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades if your child plays for a public school team during those academic years.

Future outlook
The future looks bright for homeschool athletes in Tennessee. Although there are some TSSAA member schools that begrudgingly accept homeschoolers, the TSSAA rule applies. More homeschoolers are seeing the opportunity to play sports in public and private TSSAA member schools. Many of those opportunities have led to college athletic scholarships.

Florida is another state where homeschoolers can participate in the same sports as Tennessee homeschoolers. HLA Preparatory School assists HomeLife Academy (HLA) athletes in that state. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) sponsors even more sports including boys and girls – bowling, swimming and diving, competitive cheerleading, lacrosse, adapted track and field, and water polo. Other sports include girls weightlifting and flag football, and boys volleyball.

If you live in Tennessee and have an athlete, read and become familiar with the details in the TSSAA Handbook. Also, contact Tom Adams, HLA Archway Systems Manager, to learn more about how HLA supports its student athletes.

If you have questions about the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), contact Lani Carey, HLA Senior High School Counselor.

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©2020 HomeLife Academy. Article by Jennifer Smeltser. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the publisher /.